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With the COVID-19 virus striking, the world has been subjected to “self-quarantine” and “social distancing”, there are several businesses across the globe that have been compelled to support remote working. While some of them struggle and some are successfully able to adapt to the “temporary” new normal there’s a high chance that remote working is here to stay for a lot of people.
Karina Tama, founder of Senior Care Clicks caught up with Jason Barnard, the Brand SERP guy and keynote speaker to talk about the challenges of remote work during COVID19 and share some tips.
I have never had a proper job in a stable office. After leaving university, I joined a touring folk-punk band and lived a nomadic life. Then I started a website for kids in Paris but moved to Mauritius (in the Indian Ocean, just off Madagascar) to build and run it. Less nomadic, but very remote.
I worked from home, right there on the beach, with the business end of things in Paris and the servers in the USA. That taught me a lot about self-motivation, work-day structure, separating work from family life, dealing with long-distance communication and even working with people you have never met.
Since then, I have combined remote work and nomadic living – without a home, constantly travelling and working remotely.
In the current situation, I am obviously no longer changing country on a weekly basis – it’s now AirBnB on monthly contracts and staying in France.
For me, in terms of working, nothing much has changed. For many people, remote working is new, difficult and perhaps scary. Hopefully, I can provide some tips, tricks, and advice to help.
You set your own timetable and can organize yourself in a way that suits you. If nobody is standing, looking over your shoulder, then that obviously brings freedom. I find that it makes me more productive since I don’t need to fit in with someone else’s vision of how work time should be organized.
Also, you avoid interruptions from work colleagues which can easily distract your flow – “fancy a coffee”, “can you just help me with this”, “that doesn’t look right” and so on.
Although it saves you from work-related distractions, it is so easy to get distracted by home and family stuff. It takes a lot of self-discipline (and understanding co-home sharers) to stick to your daily work plan. It is tempting to do the washing up, or cleaning, or turn on the TV, or play with the kids. That’s not a problem as such since they make a nice break. But this can easily become hours of missed work-time that become difficult to catch up on.
Probably the biggest is to have a dedicated workspace if possible. Obviously not on the kitchen table (you’ll get interrupted and moved elsewhere on a regular basis), at least on a desk that serves only that purpose, and if possible in a room alone. One frequent problem is that when people see you in a home environment, they have a tendency to forget that you are working. If you are in another room, they forget about you until you reappear.
Get out of your pajamas, take a shower and put on clothes. Maybe even shoes. I don’t follow that particular rule – I often stay in pajamas all day and it works fine. But I do get dressed for meetings and webinars – getting dressed up changes my state of mind and encourages me to take things seriously.
Take a 10-minute break every two hours. This helps with concentration during the other hour and 50 mins and will make the work time more productive. Importantly, do something that isn’t on a screen. Even more importantly, do something that only takes 10 minutes. Starting a game of monopoly with the kids is a bad idea. Playing three rounds of pen and paper hangman or I spy is a good idea. If you get other people involved, (a good idea if you can since the social aspect is a great brain-changer) make sure it is very clear to them that this is a 10-minute activity – especially important with children. It isn’t easy, but if you say “10 minutes now, then 10 minutes in 2 hours” and you stick to it 100%. For the first few days, everyone gets into the habit and it becomes easy, fun, and much less terrain for disagreements.
If you are on your own, ideas might be a walk around the garden, looking out the window and inventing stories for people you see, or playing a musical instrument (that’s mine – a strict regime of “three tunes on the ukulele, and back to work”)
Video meetings become tetchy affairs if anyone at the meeting has a bad connection – dropped sentences, misunderstandings, interruptions, it all builds up quickly to ruining a good meeting. So a great internet connection, if only for those is something that could make or break a deal, keep or lose you your job.
Don’t be afraid to cut the video to make sure everything is heard – great audio is the single most important thing in a conversation.
If everyone in the house is on the same internet connection at the same time, your bandwidth might be limited. Rather than shouting at everybody in the house to get off, which causes frustration and isn’t very family-friendly, try your mobile phone as a hotspot, or get a dedicated mobile hotspot. As a nomad, I use Ubigi because it’s reliable and works internationally. That isn’t part of the equation right now, so I bumped my mobile plan up to 100 Gigs/month and use that. Last week, I appeared on over six hours of webinars. I did them all on my laptop, using my mobile phone as a hotspot – not a single glitch, and my video and sound quality were actually better than with the house wifi as you can see here. So experiment with that. Do a try-out meeting with your parents or your friends. Or a virtual pub.
You can do a test speed – My example: 8MB on the house wifi (just about enough for video, but not great), and 40 MB/sec using my mobile phone as a hotspot (easily enough to broadcast on a webinar in HD with great sound).
When I was in Mauritius, I had a young family. Small kids need your attention and don’t understand that you can’t break off from work every time they want you to. Here is my method for dealing with that. My daughter would ask for my attention, and I would systematically ask her to wait two minutes. I could then either finish the immediate task or write down what I needed to remember in order to carry on where I left off. Then I could give her my full attention. But anything she wanted me to do that required more than five minutes had to wait for the “official” 10-minute break, lunch or after work. I found that by being very consistent with the system and making sure I always kept my word, a mutual understanding settled in and it ceased to be a problem for either of us.
When you think “coffee” or “snack” double-ask yourself whether you even really want them… or is it boredom? Probably boredom. Allow yourself a couple of quick 2-minute stretch-and-look-out-the-window breaks in between official 10-minute breaks.
But when the time comes, force yourself to take that 10-minute break. Do something different to switch off your work-brain. Physical, if possible. Get some fresh air if you can. If not, look at the world from your window and think about what you see there for a moment. Perhaps play a musical instrument (perfect time to learn) or a game – it reboots the brain, and keeps you sane (sounds like a song I could play on the ukulele).
Going to work is important. Have breakfast, announce you are going to work, and stick to it on weekdays.
Go home for lunch (it’s not far). Maybe make a joke about it – I started singing to my daughter “I’m home for lunch” and she LOVED it.
Going home is important. At the end of your working day, close the office door (or put the computer away) and disconnect from work in a similar manner to when you went to the ‘real office’. My phrase was “home again, home again, jigged jig” – that was the signal for every day that my attention became 100% family.
Separating work and home is the single most important strategy for keeping both of an even keel.
I am not the best person to ask since I have no experience of “the other side”. But, assuming the boss is smart, I would hope that if the work people are doing from home is as good and valuable to the company, more companies will allow people to work from home a part of the time.
And that could just be one thing to help motivate people working from home for the first time. This is perhaps an opportunity – if it goes well for you and for your boss, you may well be able to choose to switch to a mixture of office and home-work.
It has been a learning opportunity for me to talk with Jason, and I will definitely put into practice his tips. I am working from home for a while now. But I still sometimes face the fact of losing focus and get easily distracted at home. I think that now due to the pandemic, a lot of people that are new at working from home will go through the same challenge. I can only say that it is a learning opportunity and an adapting process.
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